Vienna's Traditional New Year Concert Drops “Nazi Past”
The Vienna Philharmonic said it now wanted to use a version that was "unconnected to the Nazi past".
The Vienna Philharmonic is doing away with an arrangement of Johann Strauss I’s Radetsky March, set by the NS-era composer Leopold Weninger, for its forthcoming New Year’s Concert.
The orchestra’s leadership confirmed the decision to the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung, a local German newspaper, stating that henceforth the Philharmonic wanted a version of the march "unconnected to the Nazi past."
Instead, on January 1 the Vienna Philharmonic, led by conductor Andris Nelsons, will perform a 1914 setting of the Radetsky March, which researchers found in the orchestra’s archives.
Since 1946, the New Year’s Concert has closed with two encores: Johann Strauss II’s The Blue Danube and Weninger’s setting of the Radetsky March.
Weninger, born in Austria in 1879, studied composition and piano in Vienna before relocating to Germany in 1909 to continue his studies.
In February 1932, he joined the National Socialist party. Working within NS cultural organisations, he became a successful composer, conductor, and arranger after Hitler assumed power in January 1933.
In addition to writing operettas and classical works, Weninger was responsible for popular arrangements of the party’s anthem, the Horst-Wessel-Lied, as well as hymns dedicated to Hitler and SA paramilitary marches.
He died in February 1940 and his legacy was his Radetsky March arrangement, now scrubbed from the Vienna Philharmonic’s repertoire.
The New Year’s Concert itself has National Socialist roots. Beginning life in 1939, its programme of frothy Strauss waltzes, performed in the opulent surrounds of Vienna’s Musikverein, was intended to promote the Austrian capital and boost morale.
Despite its origins, the concerts continued after the war was lost. In 1987, the Philharmonic was led by Herbert von Karajan, who joined the NSDAP in 1935 and whose conducting career thrived in NS-era Germany.
The New Year’s Concert is now broadcast in over 90 countries. The Philharmonic only formally acknowledged the event’s National Socialist connections in 2013.